“Let’s just say it’s the Olympics for old people,” joked Langley’s Howard Sandrel.
The Langley man just got back last week from Auckland, New Zealand, where he competed in the World Masters Games.
As part of a 45-plus team of baseball players – the Henley Grange Rams of Adelaide, Australia – Sandrel won a gold medal in their age division.
At age 55, Sandrel’s path to competitive international sports was an indirect one.
“I didn’t start playing baseball until I was 42,” he said.
He began as a coach to his sons’ little league teams.
After coaching 18 years, when his oldest son graduated from little league, Sandrel started up a new team for 18-and-older players.
Along with some of the other coaches, he would play alongside their sons when the teams were short handed.
Enjoying that, he started playing with the White Rock Eagles, a 45-and-older division hardball team.
He’s been playing and coaching with that team ever since.
Through the Eagles, Sandrel learned about the World Masters competition.
A North American Masters was scheduled to be held last year in Vancouver. Sandrel was part of the organizing committee for the baseball teams, but that sport couldn’t go ahead – there was a lack of teams to make up the numbers.
Having missed out on his chance to see and take part in masters-level baseball locally, Sandrel decided to head off to New Zealand for this year’s world competition.
Held every four years, the event brings together amateur, but often elite-level, athletes.
Many are former Olympians, but a large number of them train for sports they didn’t participate in during their younger days, Sandrel said.
“It’s competitive, but it’s very social,” he said of the atmosphere.
Sandrel tracked down an Australian squad and joined them, since there was no Canadian team participating this year.
“We ended up winning the gold medal in our own division,” he said.
They faced off against a team from South Africa that had twice tied them in round robin play.
Sandrel was impressed with the scale of the games. They opened with a welcome from the prime minister of New Zealand, in a stadium with 28,000 athletes.
There were 28 sports represented at the World Masters this year.
“We were a small part of it,” said Sandrel.
Sandrel and his wife spent two weeks in New Zealand for the 10-day games.